SONAR AND ICE FISHING
By Bob Jensen
from The Fishing Wire
Most people who go fishing on the ice will agree that sonar enables them to catch more fish. Sonar will reveal fish that are down there, and it will show how the fish respond to the bait that you’re using. When I first started ice fishing forty-plus years ago, the use of sonar wasn’t popular, mostly because there weren’t a lot of sonar units available for ice fishing. When I finally got an ice unit, and when I got familiar with it, and it didn’t take long to get familiar with it, I realized that I had been missing a key component for ice fishing success. Following are some actual on-the-ice lessons that convinced me that sonar needs to be part of an ice angler’s tool kit.
One day several years ago I shared an icehouse with fishing pioneer Gary Roach. We were on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. The area that we were fishing had stained water, and our house was over about thirty feet of that stained water. Typically, walleyes prefer to hang near the bottom when the water is stained. We kept a close eye on our sonar units and caught some walleyes. It wasn’t fast, but it was okay. Every now and then, we would see a fish mark on the sonar about fifteen-feet down. Because walleyes usually hug the bottom in stained water, we ignored those marks, or at least I did. I assumed that the marks were a whitefish or something other than a walleye. Gary didn’t assume that. After seeing a couple of those high riding fish, Gary started pulling his spoon up to them. Gary likes to catch fish. Any fish. He figured that it was better to catch a whitefish than not catch a walleye. Come to find out, those marks were walleyes, and by pulling our baits up to them, we added significantly to our catch for the day. Without sonar, we would not have seen those fish, and without seeing them, we wouldn’t have caught them.
Some anglers like to tie a swivel into their line a foot or so above the bait. The swivel reduces line twist. On a sonar unit, you can see the swivel and the bait. At times, panfish will come up and nip at the swivel. We want them nipping at our bait, not the swivel. Again, I’ve seen this happen on the sonar. When we realize what’s happening, we can adjust. Maybe we need to go to another bait to get the fish’s attention, or maybe we just need to lift the bait we’re using up to the fish’s level. Again, without sonar, we wouldn’t realize what’s happening.
I’ve got a friend who spends a lot of time on the ice. He will admit that he spends too much time on the ice. However, he has become an expert at interpreting what the sonar is showing him. He genuinely believes, and I believe him, that by closely watching his sonar, he can see the waxworms, spikes, or whatever wiggling on his hook. When the wiggling slows down, it’s time to put on livelier bait.
He’s also convinced that he can see if his bait has fallen off the hook. Many times, I’ve heard him say that his bait fell off. When he reels it in, sure enough, the bait is gone.
I have another friend who started ice fishing just a couple of years ago. He was convinced that he didn’t need a sonar. Nonetheless, one day he asked to borrow mine. I had a Vexilar 12 that he took with him. This is a nice unit and does a decent job. It’s not the highest end sonar unit though. When my friend returned it at the end of the day, he wanted to know where he “could get one of those sonar things.” He quickly realized that sonar will indeed help an angler catch more fish through the ice.